The Enduring Relevance of A Christmas Carol

A brief look at my personal experience with Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas story and why it has endured the test of time.

Nineteenth Century author Charles Dickens’ original novella was first published in 1843 in London as Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. Since then, this timeless story of a visitation of the ghosts of Christmas (past, present and future) has become a classic peek into the psychological dynamics of human transformation. It’s still a favorite Christmas story and the message of the need to release the past, correct behaviors and embrace a bright future is especially true for me this year.

One of my most poignant memories of this story was not watching a movie version but as a party guest in the Hollywood Hills attended by myself, a few well known character actors (at the time) musicians and other professional artists. I had rented the second floor of a modern home on top of Lookout Mountain, a ridge overlooking Hollywood on the one side and the San Fernando Valley on the other.

The views from nearby Mulholland Drive have been featured in many movies, including Mulholland Drive and La La Land. The hostess was my landlord. I couldn’t have afforded to live in this tony neighborhood but for the fact that Norma was my spiritual and creative mentor. There’s much to share about this connection but that’s a story for another day. I remember that night like it was yesterday.

It was a chilly Christmas Eve night. About thirty of us gathered together in the living room of Norma’s top floor perch, drank herbal tea, ate dates with almonds and kefir and pomegranate fruit dessert and munched on homemade cookies. It’s always heaven to mingle with like-minded souls but the setting, with the spectacular view out the East floor-to-ceiling window of the valley’s sparkling lights at night, has marked this night in my memory for all time.

We played a few parlor games, opened some gifts and then settled in to a reading of A Christmas Carol. There was a fire in the fireplace and the lights were turned down low. Then Mitch (whose last name I won’t reveal) started to read, in his grounded and measured sonorous baritone and I think we were all carried away. Carried back in time to London in the mid 1800s and yet still somehow present in the moment

We all know the story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s unlikely and sudden transformation from greedy miser to apologetic lover and philanthropist. And the story traces one of the most memorable and beloved arcs of all time. For me, however, the lingering memory is of experiencing a split consciousness for the first time, in real time.

The experience of feeling the reality of multiple senses of self in a single moment may just be the hidden gem of A Christmas Carol. Because knowing we can be in more than one dimension at the same time is jarring. Strange and yet familiar at the same time. When we have an experience of that eye-opening magnitude it changes us forever.

Once we’ve had a transformative experience like the one Dickens so bravely put forth nearly 180 years ago, then what? Can we go back to sleepwalking through life with our old emotional blinders on? That’s a personal choice. But I know I can’t stay the same, now that I can see without the past blinding me.

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